when medical professionals refuse to take addiction recovery seriously

A couple of weeks back, I sat in an emergency room for nine hours, working on my book, and journaling the day.

There’s a protocol for when you are over 40 and say you have chest pain. We’ve been there before and it’s always been something else, just like it was this time. It’s just what they do.

It was surreal, really. In addition to the number of times Dave was asked if he wanted something for his pain (after repeatedly saying he would not because he was recovering from prescription drug addiction — 8 years clean), we heard the ER doc give the guy next door Dave’s former drug of choice Tramadol (plus Percocet for good measure) for his pain and send him merrily on his way.

I overheard the entire transaction loud and clear and if I was not the reserved, shy person I am, I’d have given him a piece of my mind. I was reading this framed document on the wall of Dave’s room during the exchange and the irony was palpable (you don’t need to read it all, the point is that there are guidelines to provide the “safest, most appropriate pain relief for patients and to prevent the misuse of prescription pain medications”):

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I get that an ER is a crazy place. I have friends who are ER nurses, friends who’ve been the doctor on duty, family who have worked the desk. I know, too, that the prescription drug epidemic is unreal and there are multiple ideologies out there for treatment. I get that.

But when a recovering addict tells you repeatedly that what you are offering to him might as well be poison, there has to be a way to make sure you don’t hand him a death sentence in a tiny paper cup.

Dave and I discussed for hours afterward what could be done to prevent a recovering addict from being barraged over nine hours with, “I can give you something for your pain” as though they were being tested by Satan in the wilderness. Our answer was, there’s a whiteboard in the room, there’s a chart outside the room: WRITE IT DOWN.

It’s as deadly serious as any allergy or any other underlying condition and for the love of decent medical care, something has to be done to stop the madness.

And believe me, this was NOT the first time we’ve had this experience. When you look like a nice enough person, very few people take “I’m a recovering prescription drug addict” seriously. I have watched this happen over, and over, and over.

Today’s news hits the importance of this message out of the park. So much so, that it prompted Dave to write on Facebook about his recent experience:

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Heartbreaking and important that you read this.

The Young Woman Whose Addiction Story Touched Obama’s Heart Has Died
As someone in recovery (8+ years clean), this story hits far too close to home. I recently had some health issues that required a trip to the ER. I told everyone at the start that I was in recovery for pain pill addiction and could not have narcotics or pain medication.

I told the triage team, the primary nurse, the tech in the ER and the techs in the nuclear medicine area, and the ER doctor. I told everyone. An in spite of this, I was asked if I needed “something for the pain” on SIX DIFFERENT OCCASIONS. [actually, it was seven]

I know they were attempting to be compassionate and helpful, but it could have been tragic.
Thank goodness I had Deborah Beddoe sitting with me to help keep me accountable, as well as tools from my recovery work to keep me from saying, “yes”. It is an incredible temptation at the best of times and more difficult when vulnerable.

Let’s support any law, best practice or system that helps avoid this and helps someone in recovery who might be just barely hanging on. A color coded card on the door. A bold note in the chart. A software solution. Or maybe just continuing to take recovery seriously.
I’m still clean, alive and thankful for every day. I want that for everyone who struggles with addiction and I believe we have an opportunity to help those who have chosen to address their issue by refusing to add unnecessary temptation.

— Dave Beddoe

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By the way, the ER doc never did quite figure out what was wrong with Dave.  Turns out he may have had some sort of virus…jury is still out on that one.

But I can’t forget the last thing the doc said to him when he released Dave, “You know, the way I’d treat this is to give you something for the pain, but…”

Number 7. Giving him one last chance to say please.

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Friends, please share this message. And if you want to wander over to Facebook and follow Enduring and After or Jackson’s Light (written by a woman in our community who lost her teenage son to a prescription drug and is shouting this message from the rooftops) for news updates you can read share about the prescription drug addiction epidemic, please do.

 

dear friend who is up late, online, and searching for answers

I was never a chat room sort of gal — which is a shame because if I had been, I might’ve found someone to talk to late at night when the quiet house amplified the voices in my head. Instead, I searched endlessly for answers.

I still search, but with less desperation and mainly when I’m worried about my own health issues. I nearly always regret those sorts of searches…not super helpful for inducing sleep…my mind always goes to the worst and the internet freely offers it.

Anyway, I ask a lot of questions in real life now — about things I never would have years ago:

Is this normal?

What would you do?

How can I know for sure?

What if he doesn’t?

What if it’s true?

The answers aren’t always reassuring, but they’re offered by people who know me and care. People don’t always have the right answer either. But I care less now about getting the exact right answer than I do about having someone who will listen to my fears and not dismiss them as silly or faithless.

One real life – around the corner – in your kitchen – on the phone – friend is worth more than a thousand far away. That’s a proverb of sorts.

Trouble is, she’s not always awake when you are. And sometimes, there are things you don’t even dare to ask her…

Who did we ask before Google? Oh yeah, Jeeves…but who before that? I know my answer: Nobody. I kept the hardest questions to myself and they weighed heavy on my heart and mind and kept me awake for hours into the night.

I remember the first time I searched for Tramadol forums online. My first search, more than a decade ago, yielded sellers with ridiculous pages packed with search words. You had to hunt for a page that offered actual help and conversation — maybe you’ve experienced that, too. What I found eventually were conversations that held the beginnings of warnings about the power of this prescription drug. Even people breaking free from heroin recounted near-death experiences of withdrawal from Tramadol. Page after page was filled with harrowing stories of this new drug. I found nothing at all to encourage me.

There’s exponentially more information online now, and experts to chat with at all hours…but I think, more than anything, we just want to know we’re not alone: Someone like me has been through what I’m going through and she survived.

I wonder, dear friend who is up late, online, and searching for answers if that’s what you want, too? Maybe underneath the impulse to click and scroll for facts and knowledge, what you really want to know is: is it going to be okay?

And you know, just like I do, nobody has that answer. Not really. But you click, and scroll, and read and repeat til you are exhausted enough to finally sleep.

* * * * *

Two weeks ago, I was writing the story of our life together — Dave’s and mine — going back a long way. It was almost our 24th anniversary and that, combined with a revived passion to get the whole story down on paper made me feel especially reflective. Our story spans decades now: years of migraine headaches, years of addiction, years of recovery…years and years of feeling alone in suffering and in shame.

Right now, maybe all your deepest questions are unanswered — unspoken. Maybe you only see despair, discouragement, darkness.

I think so many times it’s only in the looking back that you really see.

We sang a song at church the other day, and it hit me all at once and nearly knocked me down. I got home and opened my notebook and across the page where I’d meticulously graphed the details of our history together — all the unspoken troubles behind the smiling faces in a gazillion photographs from 24 years– I wrote this line:

Never once did we ever walk alone.

Oh friend, I know that’s not the answer you came looking for, but it’s probably the most true and honest answer I can give. Whatever it is, however lonely it feels, you aren’t walking by yourself. Not really. Not ever.

Whether it’s worry rendering you sleepless, or fear, or anger, or hurt, or grief, or confusion — whatever it is, whatever you are suffering, God is with you even when it doesn’t feel like He’s answering your questions.

My prayer for you tonight is rest. And peace that passes understanding. Someday, you will look down from a mountain, not up from this valley, but you need strength for the journey. He provides for you, even in your sleep. *

Here’s a song for you — a lullaby — to remind you: you’re not alone.

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 *Psalm 127:2 It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

waking from the anesthesia of noise

I find I can’t filter noise like I used to.

When my kids were small, I learned to tune it out. So much so, that they still sometimes have to get in my face to be sure I’m listening. But that has less to do with hearing and more to do with attention. I know. I just have a lot of thoughts…

I also used to play music, listen to talk radio, have TV on in the background while they napped and I worked. But now, when I want to think, or read, or write, or pray…I need silence. So much so, that I can’t even pray in my head and heart when there’s music in church…

Someday, I know the silence of my house will make me sad. But right now, while my house is full, in the late night stillness, I feel a blessed peace. Nobody needs me right now. I can be alone with my thoughts and sort them.

You’d think that someone who enjoys the quiet so much would be good at something like meditation. But that’s not true of me. I have a noisy, cluttered brain.

Silence is a discipline.

I’ve been attempting to practice this discipline. Not in the quiet of night, but when I wake up in the morning.

It’s more difficult than it sounds. Even for someone who loves quiet.

First, you have to get free of noise and distractions: no electronic devices, no music, no muted TV. That’s not easy in a culture where we’ve been putting on headphones to shut out the world since forever.

We equate being alone with being silent, but it’s not the same thing.

And there are plenty of noise-free distractions.  If I pray the Lord’s prayer and attempt to be still for just 15 minutes in total silence, the first 14 are often spent shooing away the to-do list and all the ideas that suddenly seem so urgent.

Sometimes I write those things down and reset the timer. Because honestly, there’s so much “noise” in my life — email, Facebook, texts — the important thing could get lost again for ever.

But the point of this sort of silence is not to hear my own mind, but to hear a still, small voice that has been drowned out through constant listening. Our ears and minds are full of now, full of what makes us comfortable, what we enjoy.

Silence, real silence before God, is uncomfortable.

In silence, we come face to face with all we’ve tried to ignore. All the times we’ve forced our will not God’s, the debtors we can’t seem to forgive, the temptations that haunt us.

If my simple prayer is to awaken to God’s presence in my life, I need to know His voice. To hear it apart from the noise, from the commentators, from the opinions and activities of my friends.

God, what do you want me to see, to hear, not notice, to forgive, to ask?

What guilt have I not unconfessed? What shame still lingers?

What worries, regrets, jealousies and desires are tucked away in my heart and mind?

Noise, even the noise of our own thoughts and dreams, is an anesthesia. And when it wears off, it can be ugly. All six times I’ve gone under anesthesia for surgery, I’ve panicked coming out.

Shutting off all the noise external and internal to be awakened to my hidden faults, to buried wounds, feels much the same — until I confess them and let God heal me.

I wish I could say I do this every day, but every day that I do, I feel spiritually awake. Oh, hardly miss a day of reading Scripture and books, but this sort of stepping away from the noise into silence before God? I can’t believe all the distractions I have to fight.

Tonight, I will set my phone out of reach, so I’m not tempted to scroll, put a note card on my nightstand and remember to practice just 15 minutes of silence and allow God to have the first words of my day.

distraction and the discipline of presence

When my children were little, I noticed an interesting behavior pattern. If we started the day with TV, it was difficult to get them to take interest in anything else — including each other — for the rest of the day.

I hated this, because it meant I had to be on my A-game for the first hour after they woke up because asking and needing began the moment their eyes opened.

It was so very, very tempting to hush and soothe them with Little Bear while I changed diapers and got sippy cups — and it meant I could probably close my eyes for just a few more minutes and snuggle with whichever of the four climbed into my lap while the rest stayed contentedly mesmerized.

When the weather was good, the extra eyes-half-open doze through a few episodes wasn’t too detrimental to the flow of the day. They could always be diverted by dirt.

But if it was rainy, which of course it was 99% of the first year we lived in Tacoma, well, Game Over. It was either let them watch a video or referee endless fights over Lego pieces, Hotwheels, gummy fruits, and all the “he said I couldn’t do its” they could dole out (apparently, this is the worst thing brothers can say to each other; it either turns into a dare or a brawl).

TV was a buffer. A babysitter. A break. I’m not knocking it. I might owe some of my sanity to my children’s two-year-old vhs/dvd obsessions, which were, in order: 101 Dalmations, Toy Story 2The Iron Giant, and Finding Nemo. (My kids watched Finding Nemo a lot…lucky me, baby #4 turned out to be a terrible sleeper.)

What I’ve discovered, however, is that if we repeatedly soothe our kids with video in all its forms when they are small, they are very likely to soothe themselves with it when they are older.

When my oldest ones became teenagers, “Turn off the TV!” was my delightfully judgmental greeting to them the minute I walked in the door from work. I say it often. I say it to myself.

Train up a child…

A few generations of us have been doing this for a very long time now. Watching numbs us to exercise, chores, homework.  We turn on the TV for background noise, for something to talk about when the conversation lags.

And if we’ve been distracting ourselves, numbing ourselves, soothing ourselves for most of our lives with TV, Netflix, whatever, it’s just second nature to need it to unwind, to avoid loneliness, to avoid sorrow. Just like in the toddler years, distraction can be a welcome relief.

But if you’re anything like me, maybe it’s become a problem.

A few years ago, like practically everyone I know, I picked up the habit of scrolling through my smart phone if I woke up in the night and couldn’t sleep. Just a warmer and cozier way to do what I’d done since 1995 when the Internet made Craigslist my new best friend.

And streaming Netflix?

I streamed five seasons of Madmen in the wee hours of the morning for three weeks before my daughter went to college. Don’t judge me for it. I judge myself. Madmen had all the “charm” of midnight in a 70’s bowling alley — smoky, boozy, sexy. Way, way too much depravity for me. But, I do have a weakness for the well-written drama, and I was a copywriter on the creative team of a marketing agency, and Peggy’s copywriting woes in season 3… well, I could relate.

Distraction. I wanted distraction and entertainment so I didn’t have to feel all the feelings of letting go.

A few months later, a dear friend and I began to talk and read about giving God space in our minds and hearts and how sometimes that means feeling the feelings we’ve tried to numb and asking God to heal hurt and being patient while He does and not trying continuously to pour on our own temporary anesthetic. To ask God to awaken us to the present, to live in the present, and to take it as it is. To be okay being uncomfortable. To be attentive to our lives.

This is an exercise — a prayer — I have to come back to again and again because numbing is my default.

Awareness of God’s presence. A prayer I would BE present in my own life.  That days would not be for “getting through” but for real, active living.

And it’s a prayer best prayed the moment I wake up. A simple word: presence.

Because if I start the day catching up on the latest Downton Abbey, and then remember that when I asked a friend “what are we all going to do when this is over” his response was “Poldark,” I will have to check it out. And what do you know, the whole first season is free on Amazon Prime…

Game. Over.

(“Wow! Mom did all of our laundry! Thank you so much, mom!” Say the teenagers, usually required to do own laundry. Who knew we had a whole Poldark season’s worth of dirty clothes?)

* * * * *

Don’t you envy people who live off the grid? Don’t you think, “If I could just toss all my electronics in a landfill I’d be happier”?

I kind of do.

But I wonder…

Would we just fill our minds with something else? With novels? With nature? (Sign. Me. Up.)

I think we would.

Because the adversary is bent on distraction, and it would still take discipline to open my eyes and see.

I need that discipline.

* * * * *

P.S. If Pixar’s Wall-E (oh the irony) was too subtle a critique on distraction, consider reading Neil Postman’s book, written in 1985, entitled Amusing Ourselves to DeathTo be honest, it’s too much for me and makes me feel trapped in the Matrix. I prefer Walden because it just seems easier to flee. But that’s not 21st century reality. Somehow, we have to reclaim our lives from distraction right where we are.

Here’s a little taste of Neil (remember, this was written long before we could carry our entertainment in the palm of our hands):

“The number of hours the average American watches TV has remained steady, at about four and a half hours a day, every day (by age sixty-five, a person will have spent twelve uninterrupted years in front of the TV).”

“…No medium is excessively dangerous if its users understand what its dangers are… This is an instance in which the asking of the questions is sufficient. To ask is to break the spell.”

“It is not necessary to conceal anything from a public insensible to contradiction and narcotized by technological diversions.”

“People will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”
― Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 1985